Since we were delayed heading south we’ve had to make some tough decisions about which islands to spend our limited time on. So far we haven’t been disappointed by the ones we’ve visited, and we hope to catch the ones we passed up when we come around again, whenever that may be. Dominica is a universal favorite among cruisers so while we could easily have extended our passage from St. Martin by a day and skipped down to Martinique, we decided to visit Guadeloupe and then Dominica before our next jump. We’re glad we did. Both islands are incredibly beautiful, and even without the touring we’re doing, it would almost be enough to sit in the cockpit and drink in the postcard-perfect view all day. But we’re also learning the constraint of well-traveled routes that become over-blogged and über-shared.
Before we owned our boat, before we sold our house even, a friend gave me “An Embarrassment of Mangoes,” by Ann Vanderhoof, an inspiring and beautifully written chronicle of a foodie’s cruise through the Caribbean. I loved it and passed it on to many friends, boaters and non-boaters, dreamers and doers. The author wrote a second book and I picked that one up in Fort Lauderdale just before we left the country but I can’t get into it. It’s not because it’s not a good book; it’s as enchanting as the first one. Rather I found that reading it was coloring my own experience and our own journey. I feel the same way about guide books. They’re very helpful as a resource for where to check in or who refills propane tanks (though things change so quickly that the information is often out of date) but when it comes to what to do or see we like discovering a place ourselves rather than following a professional traveler’s recommendations.
Here in Dominica we’re torn. Portsmouth boasts a collective of boatmen offering anchorage security and yacht services including set tours of various island attractions. Cruisers of every stripe rave about one tour guide or another, this destination or that. We joined with two other boats and took two tours which we enjoyed very much but the very nature of a tour means you have a tempered experience, honed by repetition and common-denominator feedback. Let me reiterate, we loved the tours. Our companions are simpatico, our tour guides were knowledgeable and responsive and terrific with the two kids in our group. We just don’t want organized activity to be the only kind of experience we have of this beautiful island, or any place we travel to. Voyaging for us includes a healthy component of serendipitous discovery and if we happen to miss a popular attraction along the way we will at least have had our own unique experience.
Yesterday we dinghied to the big cruise ship dock we can see from our boat to visit the Cabrits National Park. From where we’re anchored we can see a clearing way up on the mountain and we thought it would be cool to hike up there and look at our boat down below. This, you’ll see, is a favorite pastime of boat owners. The security guard who met us at the dock — there will be no more cruise ships until the fall — guided us to the ticket office and the ticket lady guided us to a trail leading up the mountain. We were keen to get the awesome harbor view we knew was there somewhere.
Every time we came to a fork in the rocky trail we took the high road but we soon became distracted by the ruins of various buildings of Fort Shirley being reclaimed by the forest.
Eventually we found our way to the top, or at least the end of the trail and a beautiful view over — the wrong bay.
We retraced our steps and took another fork only to find another stunning view over the wrong bay.
Again and again we tried to find the clearing we could see from below but none of the trails took us to that side of the mountain and we had no choice but to go back down to the restored part of the fort.
We told the security guard of our failure to reach the magical harbor view and he thought for a minute then sent us down the road to a path he remembered outside the park. We traipsed along the narrow, rocky, overgrown trail wishing we had a machete with us, but we never gained any altitude so we determined this wasn’t going to take us up the mountain either and called it a day.